This book tells the story of request stop train stations, a quirky feature of Britain's rail network. Dixe Wills travels to 38 of them and explores the areas surrounding the stations. It is an entertaining journey with the author's quirky sense of humour appropriate for the curious history of the stations.
Trains do not automatically stop at request stops and will roll straight through unless a passenger indicates that they want to get on or off. If you are on the platform you must hold out your arm to get the train to stop. If you are on the train you have to tell the guard that you wish to get off. There are over 150 request stops in Britain (equating to 6 per cent of all stations).
I have used several request stops during my cycling trips and Dixe Wills also brings his bicycle along on many of his visits to the stations. Like me, he found that having a bike is a great way to explore the quiet roads and rural locations that are often characteristic of request stop stations.
He beautifully captures the pleasure of cycling in a summer evening in the chapter about Bootle station in Cumbria:
"Cycling through the countryside on a bright cool night is such a joy and such a deeply sensual pleasure that I feel sad for anyone who hasn't experienced it. Noises that get lost in the hubbub of the day sing out across a stage emptied of humdrum rivals. The calls of night-flying birds, the cry of a fox, the sudden squabbling squall of a cat fight, the fearful yelps of lambs and the reasuring responses of their mothers...Smells, scents and aromas rise up out of the ground to launch a sneaky nocturnal assault on your nostrils. On my way up I breathed in newly mown grass, the last of the season's wild garlic...You become more aware of the breeze on your face, the breaths you take in as you take on a climb, the reassuring whir of your rubber on tarmac. It's like being alive, only a great deal more so."
The book features five stations in Scotland. I was particularly interested in Dixe's visit to Altnabreac station, one of the best places that I have taken a bike trip. His encounter is somewhat more dramatic than mine when he knocks on the door of a former hotel and has a bizzare encounter with the owner. This was my favourite part of the book, a real page turner, and I will not spoil it for you by saying anything more about it.
In fact, Dixe has many adventures during his railway journeys which adds plenty of drama to the book. Some people may not enjoy the author's sense of humour and very personal touch, but it had me smiling and I identified with his happy-go-lucky approach to travelling. For example, he admits to always underestimating how much time is required to get to a place and having to run very fast to avoid missing trains and this is the main means by which he keeps fit and gets exercise.
I previously reviewed another of Dixe Wills' books- Tiny Islands. It is a very different book to Tiny Stations in terms of the layout with maps and beautiful photography, but a similar "tiny" theme. Tiny Islands is much more of a practical travel guide and you can use this to plan journeys to the islands, whereas Tiny Stations is more of a travel novel and if you want to follow the journeys you will need to do your own planning. Both books are inspiring and you will want to make your own trips to the tiny islands and tiny stations of Britain after reading them.